National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
Increasing Rates of School Completion
Moving From Policy and Research to Practice
A Manual for Policymakers, Administrators, and Educators
Part III: What Works in Dropout Prevention?
Sample Dropout Intervention Program
Background: The first career academy was created
in 1969 in Philadelphia and was called the Electrical Academy.
It was implemented at the Thomas Edison High School, which at the time
had the highest dropout rate in the city. By the mid-1990s, there were
29 academies in the Philadelphia schools and several in Pennsylvania.
In the early 1980s, the idea of career academies was adopted in California,
where there are now nearly 300 programs supported by state grants and
hundreds of others operating through local support. In California, the
state-supported career academies are known as California Partnership Academies.
Since their original implementation in Philadelphia, career academies
have been replicated in many places. Experts estimate there are between
2,000 and 3,000 nationally. While the model was originally geared toward
lower income students, it is now widely used with a cross section of students
in high school, and as opposed to simply preventing dropouts, it is intended
to promote both college and career preparation.
Variations on the model have been developed since the first career academy
was established. For example, a similar model was implemented in Michigan
in which students spent half the day at their home high school for academic
classes and half the day in a vocation-technical center. Results of the
longitudinal study on program effectiveness indicated that participants
had a significant decrease in dropout rates.
Intervention Description: The purpose of the
career academy model is to restructure schools in a way that dropout rates
will be reduced, student performance will improve, and students will gain
better skills for college and careers. Fundamental elements of the model
include the incorporation of academic and technical skills, small-size
classes, and collaboration among teachers. Other important features include
creating a close, family-like atmosphere and establishing employer and
community partnerships. Parental involvement and support is also strongly
The three-year program begins with students applying to an academy their
freshman year. The academies are designed as schools-within-schools, with
participants attending several academic- and career-themed classes (e.g.,
English, social studies, science) together. Each academy has a specific
career focus (e.g., media, business technology, health) that it pursues
through both academic and career classes. Cohorts are typically small,
with only 50-100 students admitted each year. Students in academy classes
may hear guest speakers from local businesses or participate in field
trips to nearby workplaces and colleges. During their junior year, student
are matched with mentors from local employers who serve as career-related
“big brothers and sisters.” After their junior year, students
who are performing well enough to be on track for graduation are placed
in summer or part-time school-year jobs. Students must submit résumés,
complete applications, and participate in interviews, just as would any
other candidate. Participating companies are responsible for hiring decisions.
Participants & Setting: The targeted population
is typically urban high school students in grades 10-12, although some
schools extend the program to students in grades 9-12 and some limit it
to grades 11-12. Although a few high schools aim for low- or high-performing
students, those who participate usually represent a cross section of the
high school. In typical inner-city settings many program participants
are African-American and Latino, are often from low-income families, and
are likely to have poor attendance and grades. Students are recruited
for participation, but must apply and voluntarily attend. In the California
state-supported academies, half the participants must meet at least three
of the following criteria: irregular attendance, past record of underachievement,
low motivation, and/or economic disadvantage. The other half do not have
to meet these criteria.
Implementation Considerations: Teachers typically
request to participate in the program and must be willing to work with
other teachers and a group of students interested in the career field.
The teachers in each academy should have the same planning period and
meet regularly to work on program activities and curriculum, coordinate
with employer partners, meet with parents, and discuss student progress.
Each academy is headed by a lead teacher in addition to having a steering
committee involving employers and higher education partners who oversee
the program. The partners also provide speakers, field trip sites, mentors,
Cost: There are no firm estimates for the
cost of implementing a career academy. Estimates vary depending on which
elements of the approach are included. One estimate in California was
that it adds approximately $600 per student per year. Support for career
academies typically comes from several sources: outside grants, the state
(in California and a few other states), the district, and participating
employers and community agencies. It has been estimated that the lifetime
social benefit of saving each student dropout (in terms of welfare
and unemployment costs) is about $86,000 while the social cost
is $41,000, for a net benefit of $45,000 per student.
Evidence of Effectiveness: Several studies
have examined the effectiveness of career academies. Overall, the findings
of these studies indicate that on average career academies reduce the
rate of school dropout and increase attendance, credits earned, grade-point
averages, and graduation rates. One study also indicated increased college
attendance and completion rates, in comparison with similar students from
the same district when matched prior to academy entry.
One longitudinal study that examined outcomes for 11 academy programs
in California found that academy participants performed better overall
than nonacademy students (although three of the 11 sites produced inconclusive
results). The next year, a follow-up study examined the same 11 programs
and found that high school outcomes (e.g., grade-point average, credits
earned, and courses passed) were generally positive for academy students
when compared to matched comparison groups. It was also noted that academy
students experience their biggest academic gains in their first year of
Another study looked at the effectiveness of Junior Reserve Officers
Training Corps (JROTC) programs, which utilize the traditional career
academy model with the addition of requiring students to enroll in the
JROTC program. Results indicated that program participants had significantly
higher grade-point averages and significantly lower rates of absenteeism
when compared to comparison subjects.
Additionally, data provided for 42 of the 43 state-supported academies
in California for the 1995-96 school year show program participants had
lower rates of school dropout and higher rates of attendance than nonparticipants.
A national longitudinal study of ten academies using a control group
design failed to find many of these positive outcomes. It did, however,
find a more positive learning climate that both academy students and teachers
preferred to the regular high school structure. It also found statistically
significant gains in employment outcomes four years after high school.
But it did not find statistically significant gains in attendance, credits,
grades, graduation rates, or test scores.
Overall, most studies have shown that career academies improve student
motivation, some types of academic performance, and employment outcomes.
Manual or Training Available: There are several
organizations that provide support for career academies, including:
- The Career Academy Support Network (CASN) at the University of California,
- The Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At-Risk
(CRESPAR) at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore
- The National Academy Foundation (NAF) in New York City
- The National Career Academy Coalition (NCAC) in Philadelphia and
Each of these organizations offers a variety of conferences, materials,
and professional development services.
a school within a school: California Partnership Academies. (2003).
Retrieved December 17, 2003, from http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/gs/hs/cpaoverview.asp
Burnett, G. (1992). Career
academies: Educating urban students for career success (ERIC/CUE
Digest, No. 84). Retrieved December 17, 2004, from http://www.ericdigests.org/1993/career.htm
Elliott, M. N., Hanser, L. M., & Gilroy, C. L. (2001). Evidence
of positive student outcomes in JROTC career academies. Retrieved
December 17, 2003, from http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1200/MR1200.pdf
Fontaine, R. (n.d.). California
Partnership Academies: What are they? Retrieved December 17,
2003, from http://www2.bc.cc.ca.us/techprep/partnershipplus.html
Hayward, B. J., & Tallmadge, G. K. (1995). Strategies for keeping
kids in school: Evaluation of dropout prevention and reentry projects
in vocational education: Final report. Washington, DC: U.S. Government
Hughes, K. L., Bailey, T. R., & Mechur, M. J. (2001). School-to-work:
Making a difference in education. Retrieved December 17, 2003,
Maxwell, N. L., & Rubin, V. (2000). High school career academies:
A pathway to educational reform in urban school districts? Kalamazoo,
MI: W. E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research.
Stern, D., Dayton, C., Paik, I. W., & Weisberg, A. (1989). Benefits
and costs of dropout prevention in a high school program combining academic
and vocational education: Third-year results from replications of the
California Peninsula Academies. Educational Evaluation and Policy
Analysis, 11(4), 405-416.
Stern, D., Dayton, C., Paik, I. W., Weisberg, A., & Evans, J. (1988).
Combining academic and vocational courses in an integrated program to
reduce high school dropout rates: Second-year results from replications
of the California Peninsula Academies. Educational Evaluation and
Policy Analysis, 10(2), 161-170.
Bernie Norton, Administrator
California Partnership Academies
High School Initiatives Office
California Department of Education
1430 N Street, Suite 4503
Sacramento, CA 95814
Web site: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/gs/hs/cpagen.asp
The Web site for the Career Academy
Support Network (CASN) at the University of California, Berkeley
(http://casn.berkeley.edu) offers a national directory of career
academies, a variety of free handbooks and guides, an online inquiry
service, and information on the other organizations listed above (and
1.19MB, 84 pages
Citation: Lehr, C. A., Johnson, D.
R., Bremer, C. D., Cosio, A., & Thompson, M. (2004). Essential
tools: Increasing rates of school completion: Moving from policy and research
to practice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, Institute
on Community Integration, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition.
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through a cooperative agreement #H326J000005 with the U.S. Department
of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. Opinions expressed
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